Some may wonder, why attend Party Conferences? Or, more to the point, why do so as an organisation that is not aligned with any political party, and following a general election which resulted in a clear majority Government whose focus is on putting the country back in the black?
Well, I certainly didn’t attend to antagonise the protesters, of which there were many, or to celeb spot, although I did see Boris, and Karen Brady (of apprentice fame), who now sits in the House of Lords. Briefly mind you.
The truth is, I attended to listen, and to speak to the people who are running our country over the next 5 years. I also attended to get the inside track on those who have the potential to take power in 2020 because I want to ensure your opinions, fears and the challenges you face as a NAPIT member are heard.
Building Regulations are a key tool used by the Government to ensure safe and secure homes are built and properly maintained. With the Conservatives pledging to vastly increase the number of homes built each year to 200,000, the Building Regulations will undoubtedly remain an important consideration for policy making. And that remains true even if we don’t agree with the decision to scrap, or loosen Regulations to move towards zero carbon homes in favour of short-term cost reductions!
Enforcement of Building Regulations, not just in the new build sector, but also in the retrofit industry where it is often lacking, is particularly important to us, as I’m sure it is to you, and this is just one of the angles we took to the party conferences this year to ensure the interests of NAPIT members were highlighted.
With housing being high on the political agenda for both parties, conditions in the Private Rented Sector, and the lack of detail around what landlords should do to ensure the electrical safety of their properties was also high up our list of concerns to flag.
We managed to question the Housing Minister Brandon Lewis MP on this very subject but, unsurprisingly for a politician, he managed to avoid the direct question and told us to keep our eye out for the detail in the forthcoming housing bill!
Our suggestion for mandatory EICR’s every 5 years, supported by an annual visual electrical checklist and solution for improving safety in the Private Rented Sector through an industry created Home Safety Certificate was a subject which generated much interest amongst both Conservative and Labour MP’s and we look forward to following up with them in this area.
Our other main area of focus was on policy (or the current lack thereof) to support the renewables and energy efficiency industry. This is where we see a large imbalance between the two partys’ outlooks. The Labour party appear much more pro-small scale renewables and energy efficiency, which was evident through the Green Paper they published before the election. This appetite seems to remain despite the change in leadership and a new Shadow Cabinet team, which is positive news.
However the Conservative Party rhetoric centres on stabilising an ‘energy trilemma’, balancing energy affordability for homeowners, with decarbonisation and security of supply. We are yet to see what will come of the Green Deal, Feed-in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive but can be sure that the focus on Government policy for the next 5 years will be on the fuel poor, and exploring the UK’s reserves of shale gas. We have been clear in our messaging, to all those who will listen, that any future policy in this area should be built to complement the existing supply network and not alienate the supply chain through over bureaucratic and expensive requirements.
However, not all is lost for this market. The cost of solar PV is reducing rapidly and innovation in the storage industry increasing, potentially making PV a very viable option even without subsidy in the near future. And everyone knows the cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use, so energy efficiency measures are likely to remain high on the Government’s agenda too, despite the current lack of a clear framework.
We are hopeful that the Chancellor’s Autumn Comprehensive Spending Review, due on the 25th November, will provide some long-awaited clarity in this area.
So why attend Party Conferences? It’s not to rub shoulders with the famous faces, or the infamous ones (depending on your political persuasion). It’s to ensure those making the big decisions from ivory towers understand how they affect hardworking tradespeople and encourage policymaking that helps rather than hinders small to medium sized businesses across the country.
Mike Andrews, Group Chief Executive of NAPIT